Exonerations are on the rise thanks in part to the work of innocence clinics. Nationwide, there was a record-setting 166 exonerations in 2016. In 2017, there were 139. Michigan addressed this trend last year by passing the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act, entitling a wrongfully convicted person to sue the state for compensation. If the plaintiff in such a case meets his or her burden, the court must award compensation that includes $50,000 for every year of imprisonment. MCL 691.1755(2).
This past year, SCOTUS addressed the broader question of what states must do with court costs, fees, and restitution connected to an overturned conviction. In Nelson v Colorado, the Court held that a state is obligated to refund the money collected without further proceeding. Colorado had essentially required a defendant to relitigate the issue of his or her innocence in a civil proceeding to recover “conviction-related assessments.” SCOTUS declared that this legislative scheme violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
Nelson has important implications for Michigan criminal procedure. Dave Moran argues that it overruled People v Diermier, a 1995 court of appeals case holding that a defendant couldn’t get restitution back unless the state still had the money. Under Nelson, however, a wrongfully convicted defendant is entitled to recover all of the money paid to the state, including restitution. The state is on the hook for repayment irrespective of whether restitution has since been paid to the victims.
To see more analysis regarding this year’s SCOTUS criminal cases of interest, watch the Criminal Law Update 2018.